Date Built: 1820
Architect: Robert Russell, Jr.
Current Use: offices of the president, vice president for academic affairs, and vice president for college relations, as well as meeting rooms and a classroom
Old Centre is one of the oldest college facilities in continuous use in America. Designed and built by Danville architect Robert Russell, Jr., Old Centre has served many functions. It has housed classrooms, laboratories, libraries, dormitories, faculty residences, dining rooms, a law school, club rooms, a music school, a preparatory school, billiard room, and a Civil War hospital.
The February 15, 1819, minutes of Centre's Board of Trustees contain the simple statement, "Resolved that the sum of $10,000 be appropriated for the erection of a principal College Edifice." In August 1820 Old Centre, the college's only building, opened its doors to two professors and five students. One of these students was Lewis W. Green, later to become the fifth president of the college.
John C. Young became president in 1830 and for the next 27 years, under his leadership, Centre College grew and prospered. Old Centre became the heart of College academic and social life, housing classrooms and meeting halls for literary societies. By 1840, activity in Old Centre had increased enough to necessitate the building of two wings. These wings, along with the columned portico added at the same time, reflect the Greek Revival style of architecture so popular during that period.
Although Centre tried to keep its men off the battlefield and in the classroom during the Civil War, the war came to them. In the summer of 1862 Confederate forces launched an invaion of Kentucky, reaching Danville by late September. The Confederate army used Old Centre as a hospital for injured and sick soldiers. Although the Confederates were there only a short time, Elizabeth Patterson, wife of a Centre math professor, remembers them being orderly and thankful for the daily care and meager food. On October 8, 1862, Union and Confederate forces fought at Perryville, a battle that killed or wounded more than 7,500 Union and Confederate troops. The Confederates won a tactical victory but encountered a strategic defeat, and were forced to withdraw their outnumbered army from the region and from the state. Following the battle the Union army claimed Old Centre for its own injured troops. A tragic period followed in which both Southern and Northern men fought to survive in makeshift wards while the citizens of Danville cared for them and fought another enemy - typhoid fever. President Lewis W. Green would die in office on May 26, 1863, after five days of illness, caught, it was said, by helping treat sick and wounded soldiers.
With the construction of Old Main in 1872 as the college's main academic building, Old Centre was converted to dormitory space. Rooms could be obtained for eight dollars per year with board priced at one dollar and fifty cents per week. In 1894, Old Centre also became the home of Centre's law school that operated until 1912. Occupying first the north and then the south wing of the building, the school included a recitation hall on the first floor and a law library directly above it.
World War I affected Old Centre, but not in such a dramatic fashion as the Civil War. The building was outfitted as a mess hall and barracks rooms to accommodate 120 residents - the Students' Army Training Corps. After the war, students took over the barracks rooms for dorm rooms and fraternity groups occupied the second floor. Under the direction of President Charles Turck, extensive renovation was done to Old Centre in 1929, including the addition of a double stairway.
In 1940 columns were added to the back side of Old Centre and the two wings were bricked to match the rest of the building. When the dining hall moved to the newly constructed McReynolds Hall, Old Centre was used primarily to house administrative offices.
During World War II the 20th College Training Detachment of the Army Air Corps occupied the campus, using Old Centre as its headquarters. Before its closure, 450 air cadets would pass through the program, receiving pre-flight training and classroom instruction. Unfortunately, 51 members of the detachment were killed during the war. The parents of one of those men, Lt. William Shuler, furnished an administrative room in Old Centre in his memory. Today, the Shuler Memorial Classroom honors Lt. Shuler as well as all the Centre students who have lost their lives in war.
By the 1980's it was clear that Old Centre was in desperate need of extensive remodeling and renovation. In 1988 a preliminary assessment was completed of what needed to be accomplished to save the building. In 1990 under President Michael F. Adams a Save-Old-Centre drive was launched and renovation begun. On October 11, 1991, Old Centre was rededicated.